Old TCS Posts 1

Quotes are from the Taking Children Seriously email list from 1994 or 1995.
Non-coercion requires the interplay of reason. I think that fairly young children (under six) do not find *reason* very persuasive.

As I've watched my children develop, I think I've observed them grow from a basically pre-rational stage
Children under six learn English. English is extremely complex. It is much harder than learning any programming language, which many people, adult or child, have great difficulty with. So we can see that children under six routinely engage in high quality rational learning.

But I want to look at this claim another way. How does a person come to this conclusion? What sort of things did he actually observe? The specific detail given is that children do not seem to be persuaded by reason. So we have this scenario: Parent says something which he considers reasonable. Child disagrees. And parent concludes young children don't use reason. But all the evidence seems to show is that he had a disagreement or misunderstanding with his child. Those are common among adults, so why shouldn't they happen even more between adults and children (who have less shared knowledge in common, so communicating is harder).

Essentially, the attitude is that if his child doesn't agree with him, his child isn't using reason. His criterion of reasonableness is obedience.
My 18 month old has *never* liked getting his diaper changed (after all, it's a transition from warm to cold), but it *is* a matter of his health and well-being that the diaper get changed.
This is supposed to be an argument for why things have to be done to children that they don't like. But it is silly because it's so easy to think of a solution. Why does diaper changing have to have an unpleasant hot-to-cold transition? If parent had looked for a solution, couldn't he have come up with using a heater? This is, by the way, from the same post as above. So how confident can we be that this adult is usually right? He apparently does not use reason to solve simple problems to help his children.
Most absurd was the part about striking a bargain for the child to pay for his own dental work. This strikes me as a threat, rather than the non-coercive relationship you are trying to acheive.

That only begs the question of why the child has any right to have her dental work paid for by her parent(s).
Seriously? He's defending threatened children with the prospect of not having dental care, by saying parents do not owe dental care in the first place?

From contextual details I know the reason for this position: libertarianism. Some libertarians have a disgusting habit of considering children property. Children use their parents' resources, so they are in debt to their parents. They can either abide by their parents' rules, or move out. This moving out option does not actually help children or make the harsh treatment acceptable.

If you don't want to help a child, and provide for them, until they are reasonably and happily independent, then you should not have a child. Why bring someone into the world who can't take care of himself, and then abandon him (or only help him conditionally if he will obey you -- that's giving him a choice of slavery or abandonment).

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Old TCS Posts 2

...and it's not as though the child has the *practical* freedom to leave the relationship if they don't like the rules the parent chooses to live by.

Whose fault is that?
From context, we know the intent of this question is to say that it's the child's fault for not being an adult yet, and therefore it's not the parent's fault or problem if his child doesn't like "my rules or move out."

Let's reconsider who's fault it is. The parent created a dependent. And hasn't yet changed that dependent into an independent person. So who's fault is that? The parent's. This is a result of his decision and he should take responsibility for it.

I'm not saying the parent did anything wrong, it's just that he chose to cause the situation and is thus responsible for it. On the other hand, a young child had no choices which would let him be financially and otherwise independent of his parents, so blaming the child is ludicrous.
Any act of definition is a selection of axioms, and is therefore not subject to reason. If someone disagrees with your choice of axioms, reason cannot come into play to convince them to change their mind, outside of inconsistent axioms. In the case of property, you're restricting the actions of someone else. If they disagree with your definition, one or the other of you will have to capitulate when it comes to those restrictions.
The right way to approach axioms is that they are just ideas, about which we might be mistaken. If someone else points out a problem with one of our axioms, or suggests a reason an alternative would be better, we should consider it and be open to changing our mind. In this way, a person with different axioms can have a fruitful discussion with us.

What prevents reasoned discussion from being effective is not choosing different axioms, it is holding them with a closed mind. If we refuse to reconsider our ideas which we call axioms, that is the cause of the problem, and if we don't, there is no difficulty.
Force may be justifiable in those cases where incompetent use is a danger not just to oneself but to others

I agree. What I don't agree with is the notion that people should be presumed incompetent.

Then you can come up with your own examples to support it. For me, in my community, it all depends on what risk one's incompetence poses to one's neighbors, I think. In some cases, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, in others the pound of cure might be so cheap it doesn't matter.
Using contextual clues, we can tell that the issue is whether to use force against your children on the justification that their incompetence might create a danger to others. For example, if your child picks up a gun, but isn't trained in gun safety, then you can force him to put it down.

First of all, how often does this happen? (And if your young child gets ahold of a loaded gun, that is your mistake for leaving it lying around on the floor.) When do small children have the power to hurt people? It's pretty rare. They are just looking for an excuse so they can oppose the TCS principle that, "it is possible and desirable to raise and educate children without either doing anything to them against their will, or making them do anything against their will."

Second, they bring up the specific issue of whether children should be presumed incompetent on account of their age. Why presume? What is their to gain by it? Why not use our knowledge of the child to evaluate what he is competent at? Sadly, the answer is that the poster wants to say, "it all depends" and hide behind vagueness, so that he can maintain that "sometimes, in some situations" children should be coerced. He doesn't want to offer a plausible example. It's hard to think of an example where it isn't blatantly the parent's fault (like letting a toddler have a weapon). If child would be dangerous in possession of something, shouldn't you keep it on a high shelf or behind a lock? There, problem solved without coercing child.

I think the ounce of prevention, which is worth a pound of cure, is to make children obedient. With this simple step, all dangerous situations become safe. When child gets a loaded gun, now we can just say, "Put that down, son," and he'll obey. This obedience "just in case" is necessary for our neighbor's safety. In what specific situation? Umm, it depends on what you consider a risk, and where you live, and what your children's personality is, and stop asking me for details I'm busy teaching my child to listen.

Notice that this kind of bad, vague arguing and failing to listen to reason (as explained by me) is just the kind of thing these people accuse their children of, and use as a justification for force. Well, as far as I am concerned, they are ignorant, and don't listen to reason. So by their own logic, shouldn't I force them to listen, for their own good?
Nor do I understand how non-coercive parenting can be effective with a very young child who has an unusually strong temper and little to no self control. It's not that I prefer coercion. Yet in certain situations reasoning with a child just isn't a viable option and immediate action is necessary to contain the impending violence.
See what I mean? Parents claim they have to use force to defend themselves against their violent three-year-olds. Absurd!

And look at the excuse implied: it's not the parent's fault, the child was born bad. It isn't that the parent has failed to teach self-control, and temper control, it is the child's fault (somehow). The child was born with original sin. He's already going down the path of wickedness by resisting his parent's wise, reasonable ideas.

Back in real life, tempers are not inborn, they are cultural. "Lack of self control" is the same. These traits, which are supposed to justify mistreatment of the child, were in fact taught to the child by the parent (unintentionally).

This should not surprise us. No one designs a lesson plan to teach "turning into your mother". Yet, many women discover that, at some point, they learned how to act like their mother. And the best explanation is that they learned it from their own mother. That's why people usually turn into their own mother and not someone else's. As this illustrates, parents often unintentionally teach major ideas, even to children who consider it a bad idea and do not want to learn it.

Also notice how this poster is asserting something in the mode of, "I don't want to coerce my child. But my child forces me to do it. He has power over me. It's his fault, not mine." This is upside down. The parent is the one with all the power and control.
In such situations, force must be meet with force. The child is not exercising his better judgment. He is out of control. It may take years to develop enough self control to handle such a strong temper. In the meanwhile, there must be constraints placed on such a child's behavior. Certain types of inappropriate behavior can not be tolerated.
This paragraph directly follows the previous quote. In it, the poster's motivations are even more clear. You see, three year olds are very dangerous. If parents aren't authorized to use force, they would be killed or maimed. Non-coercive parenting would be like hunting angry tigers and cannibals without a gun. That's suicide! Don't do it!

More philosophically, the idea is that until the child's original (inborn) sin (lack of self control) is defeated, he is not a real person. He is dangerous. But after you beat the sin out of him by force (but only using force if he won't obey peacefully), it's all smiles and puppies. He's a person (adult) then, and you can get along peacefully.

Very telling is how the poster fails to give an example of a type of behavior that cannot be tolerated. Are we talking about back talk? Refusing to share his gameboy? Not wanting to visit Grandma? Beating up his frail parents? Or what? The poster simply wants us to imagine whatever we would feel justifies violence, and then agree with him that, in general, violence against children is sometimes necessary to protect parents from intolerable behavior.

Besides, the phrase, "inappropriate behavior," is a give away. It reveals we are talking about mundane things like the child being rude.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Old TCS Posts 3

The age of the child makes no difference? Sometimes newborn babies don't initially want to nurse. Such situations can be difficult.

I have no doubt that such situations can be difficult. What I doubt is that the problem is caused by the _age_ of the baby. In this case, I'd attribute the problem to the baby's unwillingness to nurse, rather than its age.

It isn't that the problem is caused by age. It's that the age limits the possible solutions. It's not always possible to negotiate with a very young child.
That's odd. Prima facie, if a baby does not want to nurse, that isn't a problem. It's an indication the baby isn't hungry at this time. What are we to imagine: a starving child that refuses nourishment until dead?

And supposing we did imagine that. Is that a problem caused by age? Of course not. Countless other people of the same age do not have that problem.

Is the problem causing by not wanting to nurse? No, that doesn't make sense. That isn't a problem by itself. The issue is when and why the baby does not wish to nurse. Apparently this is a wicked, sinful baby, and not wanting to nurse when it should is one of the manifestations.

Or not. Perhaps it's just an honest mistake. And there is a solution to be found. No one must be hurt. However, we are told, the baby's age limits the possible solutions. Well, that's true. You cannot solve the problem with a quick trip to the pub to drink it away. The baby won't be admitted due to its age.

But we are told something more specific: the especially young people do not negotiate. The implication is that they form unreasonable preferences, which will cause serious problems, and that they become so attached to these preferences that there is nothing to be done. Except to force the baby. It will cry now, and protest, but it's for its own good. This is a very disturbing notion. But necessary, so we are told.

As has been the case previously, examples are somewhat lacking. The particular example of nursing is ridiculous. Babies don't starve themselves to death by refusing to eat. If the baby does not want to nurse, it is in no danger.

So what are the critical situations where babies don't negotiate and thus sabotage reaching an amicable solution? It must be something like this:

Babies need diapers. This is their own fault for not being potty trained. This is due to their age. This results in unpleasant hot-to-cold transitions when the diaper is changed. Some babies don't like that sensation; it is a problem. But the baby won't negotiate! It won't compromise and agree to a certain number of unpleasant sensations per month. It won't agree to speed up its potty training by a few years, and to look forward to the end of the problem as a way grit its teeth and happily bear it. It won't even propose that maybe it could accept the diaper changes if only parents would get a heater, because its ignorant of heaters. I mean, too young to comprehend what a heater is. We are told the issue is age itself, not ignorance.

I'll leave the lunacy of this analysis as an exercise for the reader, and try again.

Parents have hired a baby sitter and are preparing to go to a romantic restaurant. Baby starts crying. It doesn't want to stay with the sitter. If only child were older, they could negotiate. They could bribe their child with some money or TV. Or makes threats if it doesn't stop raising a fuss. There are many ways the older child would be caused to obey no matter how unpleasant the sitter was. That's the sort of negotiation parents like, and the sort babies are too young for. You see, babies cannot be bribed with TV or other distractions. Except that, umm, they can: younger, more ignorant children are actually easier to distract and amuse. Well, what about threats? The father should take care of that. If you can't scare a baby, you're not much of a man. Hmm, so what kind of negotiation won't work? Oh, it must be the kind where you tell your eight-year-old how important the dinner is, and how bad you would feel if you missed it, and how he wouldn't want to hurt his parents, would he? That kind of slightly subtle and indirect pressure helps parents feel good. They didn't threaten, they used reason. Not wanting to upset his parents is a great reason for a child to do something. He was very helpful and rightly so. But babies, they don't negotiate like this. They just don't listen. You have to communicate more explicitly, or they won't pick up the implied threats.

So there you have it. Babies really are impossible to negotiate with in the usual way because they are not well versed in euphemism, and not yet trained to respond to emotional blackmail. Older children are really much nicer. All you have to do is have a personality such that you would be upset if they do not obey, and then obedience is a matter of reason: it's only reasonable that children do not upset their parents.

Despite it all, I must insist this is not really a matter of age itself, but of knowledge. An especially precocious baby could perfectly well negotiate in this manner.
Understanding the _limitations on non-coercion_ would seem to me to be the most essential single issue for those who subscribe to non-coercive parenting exclusively.
That's strange. That seems to me more of an essential issue for those who would advocate coercion. If they can prove non-coercion has limits, it will help them feel better. They are not hurting their children because they are cruel and callous. It simply isn't possible to avoid.

But a person who subscribes to non-coercive parenting. What does he care for these limits? If it would be of any use to him -- perhaps the situation is avoidable if you see it coming -- then it is in fact not a limit on non-coercion, because there is a solution. A problem truly with no solution but pain -- there is no value in seeing that coming. No foresight will save you from it. It is useless except to depress you.

Those who subscribe to non-coercive parenting would be much better advised to approach life in a spirit of optimism. To solve what problems they can, and if they should fail, to expect that to be their own mistake and not a necessity, and then to look for a way to do better next time. This attitude will lead to the best possible results whether non-coercion is entirely possible, or not. Any time coercion cannot be avoided, it will happen, no matter what our method is. But any time it can be avoided, that is when our approach matters most, and we must not be lured into temptation of imagining that we have done the best possible, when we have not.

Seeking limits on non-coercion is a strategy to comfort coercive parents, not to help non-coercive parents to do better.
You're beginning to piss me off, Steve, with these constant personal attacks. I don't want to have to get personal with you, so why don't you spare us all the abusive ad hominems? As a matter of fact, you were the one begging the question and you damn well know it.

At least Steve has remained a gentleman in demeanor. Why don't you just take Steve seriously? I think his questions are sincere.
This is very funny, don't you think? First, apparently, Steve makes personal attacks. Then someone replies to say that personal attacks are bad, and thus Steve is an abusive jerk. He doesn't want to get personal, but he has to. It's Steve's fault for provoking him. Steve is guilty of so many crimes.

The poster himself must have imagined that he was not writing a personal attack of exactly the sort he criticized. How that can be is a tough question. Perhaps he figured that Steve had caused him to be angry, so it was only natural for him to act in anger, and the consequences all belong to Steve. Or he imagined that what he said was true, and that that somehow changed its character.

As amusing as that is, next we have a third person writing in with yet another personal attack, again attacking someone for writing personal attacks to the list. This third person saw that the second person was a hypocrite. He recognized that the personal attack guised as righteous fury was, in fact, just the sort of ad hominem it rightly decried. And then he proceeded to do exactly the same thing himself. Truly amazing.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Old TCS Posts 4

[Our young child is] probably brighter than Dear Ol' Dad, but we try not to encourage that thought.
The poster states his best idea of the truth, and then that he does not want his child to believe it. He would prefer his child believe something he considers false. That's awful.
Proof number two came in the form of Anthony
How can you prove something twice? Why bother? It was already beyond doubt after the first proof, wasn't it?
we are firmly in the camp of coercion where necessary


Oops. We LET him get opinions? Yup, and he fiercely defends them, too. Even when (or *especially* when?) they don't agree with ours. Which brings us to: DISCIPLINE.

Here's where all our careful planning landed in oblivion. One moment everything was going according to plan, and the next -- he didn't listen when we said, "No." We were devastated. We were nonplussed, too. Being an actor, my gut reaction was, "Hey! This kid isn't reading the script!"


We slowly learned which forms of discipline were effective (added chores, time outs, rare spanks), and which were complete wastes of time (yelling, hand slapping, grounding)
This sort of speaks for itself. Child gets opinions. Parent disagrees. This brings them to discipline. The problem is the child sometimes says "no" (which is equated with not listening even though it's very different). To parents, this is "devastating". Children are supposed to obey.

So, the parents tried lots of punishments like hitting their child, yelling at him, and making him do chores. (Remember this next time you meet a child who has a chore list ostensibly so he will learn responsibility or otherwise "for his own benefit". Chores are used as to discipline children, and you don't discipline people by making them do what's best for them -- they would appreciate that and want more discipline.) So with time, the poster learned which type of hitting his child was most effective to cause obedience, and which sorts of other ways of hurting child he is most fearful of. We are supposed to congratulate him.

Putting this in perspective, the poster believes in "coercion where necessary" but his parenting included yelling and hitting, and more, which were "complete wastes of time" (i.e., unnecessary). Further, the child-hurting, such as spanking, which he does deem necessary, and indeed all the punishments, were not to save the child from imminent harm or for some other clear necessity. In fact, they were for a bad cause: the child said "no", and the parent wanted to force the child to say, "yes". All this coercion has nothing to do with necessity and everything to do with the parent's irrational attitude that the solution to a child who disagrees is to hit him until he agrees. This could only seem necessary if "coming up with good, reasonable ideas that child would be happy to agree with" is well beyond the capacity of your imagination.
Our key to success has always been showing greater love to the child after having applied the coercion, to show that all things are done in love. This is what keeps our family running.
This is the same post, which grants us some insight into what this means. Child is given a time out and a spanking and then told it's all because they love him. How sweet? They discovered that telling children they love them makes the children more obedient than telling them they are adversaries.

One wonders just what they love. They do not love the child as he is today. They think the child today is so wicked that coercion and suffering is necessary to change him. What they actually love is an imaginary child, similar to their own child, except that he never says "no". And for the sake of this imaginary child, they are willing to hurt their real child. That's the kind of love they are talking about.
In the short week I have been subscribed to this list, I have witnessed it QUICKLY devolve into:

The Name/Name2/Name3 Arguing With Each Other and Calling Each Other Everything But Blatant Evolutionists While Using the Most Verbose and Banal Language Possible List.

I had hoped this list would bear fruit, but fear the fruit has taken over.

Please remove me from it.
This person wants to leave the list because it has unpleasant arguments and name calling. But before he goes, he felt it best to post some verbal abuse. That will really show those people who are ruining the list with verbal abuse!
Sarah Lawrence writes, in part:

Most parents, including unschoolers, disagree with us about whether refraining from coercion is *right.* They say that coercion, as we have just defined it, is natural, desirable and unavoidable, because unless children are treated in some of these ways some of the time, disaster will result. The sort of "evidence" they cite typically includes: *children need to be trained to clean their teeth regularly because otherwise they will lose them in later life;

This is precisely where I part company with Sarah. I believe in letting children do what they want, when they want - so long as it's not dangerous. (If it involves me, there's also a laziness factor involved; I know there are more energetic and willing parents on the various home-ed lists, but I assure myself that in this, too, I'm well in the 99th percentile.) But what should a non-coercive parent do when a child does not like to have her teeth flossed and brushed, and will kick and fight to avoid it?

Sarah will probably say that the kicking and fighting is a reaction to the coercion, and to my reaction to the kicking and fighting, and I partly agree: If I didn't think it was funny/annoying, it wouldn't keep happening. But our oldest, at least, never liked having his teeth brushed, and always resisted. And, this is not something we can just ignore and wait for him to grow out of: He already has a mouth full of cavities (well, $2K worth of fillings and caps, now) and we do *not* want this to happen to his second set of teeth.

I submit that "no coercion" is a bad ideal. If Sarah has been able to avoid health-related coercion, this says more about her particular children than the general case.
Hmm, let's see. This parent believes health-related coercion works, and has practiced it. And the result has been ... failure. The proof that non-coercion cannot work is that dental coercion doesn't work. Seriously? Sigh.

If non-coercion was just another way to make children do things like brush their teeth, but nicer and less effective, then we could agree that when stronger methods fail, the weaker ones will too. But it isn't about making children do things! One of the key ideas of non-coercive parenting is that if something is actually a good idea, it's possible for any person to see this. Merit can be explained, argued, and demonstrated. Thus, if a child does not brush his teeth, but should, the knowledge of the value of teeth brushing can be communicated so that child will want to brush. And this is in fact much more effective than trying to force child. When he cares about brushing his teeth, he'll do a much better job than what can be coerced out of him. Just as this poster has so kindly illustrated: coerced brushing was not effective enough to prevent cavities. Something else is needed, like cooperation towards common goals. Which means that step one should not be insisting child "listen" (obey), it should be coming to agree about the goals. If you start by creating a common point, such as agreement about the teeth brushing issue, then it's much easier and more effective to proceed because you won't be working towards conflicting purposes.
The argument that "I, as the parent, have to pay for their mistakes" is easily solved: don't pay for their mistakes if you don't want to. If you don't want to pay their dental bills if they neglect their teeth, then make that clear to them ahead of time and stick to your position. Let them pay (or not) for their own dentistry.

If they don't have any income, then they'll have to take that into account in deciding whether or not they prefer not brushing their teeth and having to get a job to pay for possible dentistry in the future or not. If you tell them: "Do it, but if you don't I'll pay for your dental work anyways," then they've got less incentive to prevent the dentistry in the firstplace.

This is some kind of libertarian insanity. By this logic, you can justify anything at all. "Agree to my rules about your entire life, or I won't pay for your food. When making this decision, take into account how much income you have for buying your own food." And of course your child, who isn't even legally allowed to work, won't be able to afford his own apartment and food and so on (let alone take care of himself alone). So this is simply a recipe for parents to justify any set of rules they want, no matter how coercive. It is worse than conventional parenting, which acknowledges that parents have some obligations to provide for their child.

But then the same person says:
I don't see how the age of the child changes anything. I think what you're trying to say is that if your child is old enough to have been sufficiently indoctrinated into the absolute goodness of what you're trying to get the child to do, then your preferred outcome is more likely. But what I question is why all you care about is whether the child brushes his or her teeth, without caring about whether the child does this because the child thinks it's in his or her own best interest based upon their own independent judgement or whether they do it because their parent said so.
Which is, well, good. Posters do indeed like to imagine older children so they can imagine a child who already agrees with them. And it is indeed important whether your child thinks brushing is a good idea or is just avoiding punishment. Notice, for example, what happens when your child moves out, in each case. Parents claim they coerce to instill habits which will be beneficial when the child is an adult. But the habit of brushing-when-under-threat won't be much use when he's an adult -- no one will threaten him, then.

There's also the further issue that sometimes parents are mistaken, and the policy, "the parent must always be obeyed," does not have any mechanism for error correction. If the parent is mistaken, then a mistake will happen. The rival policy, "the parent and child should come to agree on something, and do that," does have a mechanism for error correction: during the discussion, bad ideas will be criticized and thrown out.
Infants have to be coerced into wearing diapers and clothes, even though they'd probably prefer to avoid the latter.
How parochial! Clothes are the kind of necessity requiring coercion? Why? What disastrous harm will come to your infant from not wearing clothes? He won't get the job as a baby fashion model? His parent will be mildly embarrassed?
the need for and/or justifiability of coercion is inversely correlated with the child's abilities


some teenagers have to be coerced into writing those damn college application essays.
Some teenagers do not want to write college application essays. Let's consider why that might be. Maybe they aren't enthusiastic about college. Notice the child is not allowed any more leeway to make his own judgment when he is older. Parents say that older children with more abilities don't need to be coerced, it's only ignorant babies. But then when it comes down to it, if a child of any age has a different opinion than his parent, this is taken as proof he's still a child at least in some ways, and still must be coerced. Because mother always knows best. Mother is so amazing she even has a logical justification of the statement, "mother always knows best." I'd love to hear it, but unfortunately, she doesn't share it with mere mortals like myself, who probably couldn't understand it anyway.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Old TCS Posts 5

Here are some quotes I like:
There may well be times when being non-coercive is inconvenient -- but not necessarily more inconvenient than being coercive. A child who hasn't been coerced has no reason to see adults as adversaries.
some parents go to enormous lengths to do what they think will benefit their children. If they did believe that non-coercion was best for their children, many parents would be willing to accept some inconvenience to that end (in addition to the effort required to break away from what they learned from *their* parents).
Do you mean that knowing someone's age makes it possible to completely exclude from consideration any evidence or argument to the effect that they could make rational decisions?
Explaining to the child that (s)he will need to pay for future dental work because (s)he did not practice adequate hygene means nothing to a four year old who can have but a limited grasp of finances.

Then that is not a very good explanation to give a four-year-old.
when coercion is used, it really doesn't *matter* whether your reasons make sense, or whether the task is the right thing to do. *They have to do it regardless*. It's as easy to make a habit of wrong things as right things. Coercion doesn't call for children to reason; indeed it calls for them *not* to reason, or risk punishment for reasoning to a different conclusion than the adult.
Those were all by the same person. Unfortunately, that's the end of his posts in this monthly archive, so I guess it's back to quoting bad ideas.
Yes, we coerce our children and, in reality, we're proud of it. But it's not arbitrary. We take special care to explain to them the reasons behind our actions.
The implication is that explaining the reasons makes the coercion non-arbitrary. But if the child agrees with the reasons then coercion is pointless. The only case where coercion would be used is if the parents explain their reasons, and the child considers those to be bad reasons. So, coercion takes place in exactly the cases when child considers parent to have a misconception. This policy of, from the child's point of view, using force when mistaken, certainly is not a very effective way of demonstrating to children that you care about reasoned discussion and wouldn't act arbitrarily.
This does not mean that we allow them no choices. Choices of taste [...] are left to them (within certain limits of practicality [...] and safety (no, that uninsulated demin jacket is not going to be adequate as a winter coat in Iowa)
Children have to be forced to wear warm clothing? If they don't, they won't notice anything is amiss and will die? Or what?

And consider a parent so bad at explaining things to their children that they can't even convince child that wearing enough clothing not to be dangerously cold is wise. He takes his own lack of ability to explain even very simple things as proof that children are irrational creatures who must be coerced. That's ridiculous. No wonder he can't persuade child to brush his teeth or anything else. Even the negative consequences of being painfully freezing cold are beyond his ability to communicate.
In the case of watching television and videos, again, it is not simply that he should have the right to choose to watch televsion whenever he wants. When the television is on I have to be willing to have that sound in the house in which I exist also. (We live in a small house, in which I spend a fair amount of time in the living room where the TV is.)

In short, if the decision affects only him, then he has the right to make whatever decision he wants. Fine. But, if that decision affects other people, then the rights of the other people come into the situation as well. There is an expression that says: "Your right to swing your arms ends at my face." Yes, children should have equal rights with adults, but not rights which take away from my rights
Children want to watch TV as a way to metaphorically punch their parents in the face. If a child wants to do something that doesn't effect anyone else, that's fine, but if it requires the parent's involvement in any way, or uses the parent's resources, then he needs permission. So, for example, watching the TV also causes wear and tear and uses electricity. Children have no right to damage their parent's property, so he needs permission. And what about head phones so the parent doesn't have to listen to the TV while child is watching? (Why didn't they think of that? Are they even trying to find solutions?) Headphones would cost the parent money, which does not belong to the child, so, as with pretty much everything, child needs parental approval. But, the rights of the child are being respected. He has the same rights as anyone else. The difference is only his lack of resources. If he'd just get a job, he could buy his own headphones and then watch TV.

Sigh. Instead of admitting he treats children differently, this poster insists children have equal rights and the fault is their own for not having resources. It's the child's fault he doesn't have his own sound proof room (or headphones) to watch TV in. He doesn't have a right to that if he won't earn it in the free market. Children create their own lack of options by not acting like adults. But it's fair! Really, it is!
A better question for her is clothing... She loves to take off her clothes, regardless of the weather and especially if I just put them on her! She'll try to put them back on, but if she can't she doesn't spend too much time worrying about it... she just goes on about her business. So, is she just warmer-blooded than I or should I make her wear clothes around the house? She doesn't seem to do this when we're away from home.
The child takes the clothes off and doesn't complain or show any kind of upset. And does wear clothes when outdoors where it is colder. And parent is worried she'll freeze? Seriously? Don't children cry when it starts to hurt? You'll have plenty of warning. If you're really that worried, go touch her skin. You'll see it doesn't feel like an ice cube. If you're still worried, take her temperature. You'll notice it's normal. There's plenty of simple ways to find out if she's actually too cold. There's no need to be considering "making her wear clothes" yet! There is no evidence of any sort that child is making a mistake; in fact there is evidence child is discriminating and makes appropriate choices about clothing. And parent's intuition is maybe it's already time to resort to violence.
How do you know when a child is able to handle making different decisions for herself?
Children make decisions from day one. For example, they make choices about what to grab, or what to focus their attention on. The only issue is whether parent forcibly stops child, or not. How do you know when child is ready to not be controlled? That is the wrong attitude. Even if you take the attitude that coercion is sometimes necessary, surely there is no case that it should be the default approach! A better issue is: in what relatively few cases should a parent intervene to try to prevent a harmful mistaken decision? But even that is a mistaken way to look at the situation. Because it sees the primary issue as whether the parent should use force, or not. But that should be a last result, if it's a consideration at all. Considering it from the start is clearly bad. The first issue should be to consider what advice would help child to make a better decision, and what sort of information child would appreciate. Children don't want to ruin their lives with bad decisions. A better attitude is to cooperate with your child and find good decisions with him.
If Mary won't put her laundry away, then I just might not have the time or inclination to read her a story or help her set up an art project. [...]

I don't look at these things as being coercive. I have needs, too. If Mary won't shoulder her responsibility, then I either have to shoulder it or let the work pile up.
So let's see. First, Mary is under threat that if she won't obey about laundry, she will be deprived of stories and art. Then her parent says this isn't coercive. How can that be? Mary apparently wants to do art and hear stories, but not do the laundry. But is unable to get what she wants. Clearly this is coercive behavior by the parent.

The poster goes on to justify this coercion based on his own needs. You see, children have responsibilities, and if they won't pull their weight, they are coercing the parent, and coercion them is purely a defensive measure. But wait, what did the parent's needs have to do with the child's responsibilities? Could it be that the child's responsibility is to do whatever the parent feels he needs the child to do?

PS Aside from Sarah Lawrence (now Fitz-Claridge), names are often changed, especially identifiable names.

Elliot Temple | Permalink | Messages (0)

Old TCS Posts 6

"Wow, you put all your laundry away all by yourself. I'm glad because now we have time for an extra story."

This is one reason I *loathed* the *How to talk so kids will listen* books. Quite simply, the statement quoted here is a *lie*. This is horrible manipulation.
That's Sarah talking. I agree with her point. But she is rather hostile. This raises an interesting question: How did TCS grow when the majority of posters were hostile to the core ideas, and the most active founder was hostile to people who who express relatively normal parenting ideas? Sarah goes on to take apart this person's statement in detail and explain what he "*really* means" and how it is coercive.
"You sure got dressed quickly this morning. Now you have time to paint before lunch."

Well in that case, the child would have *even more* time if she did not bother dressing at all, wouldn't she? But that would not fit in with the behaviourist plans of the authors of that book at all (despite its undoubted practicality for such a messy activity).
Well, it's true. But it's Sarah being hostile again.

There is a second unquestioned assumption which I'd like to point out. It is the fixed lunch time. You don't have less time to accomplish things if you wake up later in the day, and move lunch correspondingly. When you have lunch, and how much is done before it, actually has nothing to do with how much you can get done in a day. Lunch takes the same portion of your waking hours regardless.

Oh damn, there's only this one Sarah post this month. It was hard to tell from context, but she might be less hostile than it seems. Maybe someone asked if the type of statements quoted are good ideas instead of actually advocating them. I guess I'll find out later.
My children have so many choice - they wear what they want, they control their own learning (they don't go to school and don't do any schoolwork) etc., but in somethings there can be no choice.
What things? As usual, no details are given of specifically when and why a child must be coerced. But despite not being able to think of a single strong example, this poster is very attached to defending the principle that coercion is sometimes justified. Presumably it will help him feel better about those times he hurts his child.
In our case, our noncoercive philosophy is easy to follow when it comes to clothes, hair, education, bedtime and yes, even toothbrushing, but I don't start the car unless everyone has a seatbelt on, I don't let kids smash private property and I don't let them hurt each other.
This is a later post by the same author, and gives genuine examples! Coercion is justified over seat belts, vandalism of others' property, and sibling violence.

Well, maybe. He doesn't start the car until people buckle up. Prima facie, that sounds helpful, not coercive. It keeps his children safe even if they are forgetful. Wouldn't they appreciate this concern? So why does he think it's coercive? Do his children want him to start the car and drive around with their seat belts unfastened? If so, then they'd be in a state of coercion if this is refused to them, and they still want it. This sounds fairly unlikely. I wonder if the real issue is that the children don't want to go on the car ride at all.

But let's take it at face value for a moment. Events take this form all the time. Any time a child forms any preference at all, and his parent does not immediately comply, we have a situation like this. But coercion is usually avoided. How? Sometimes the child comes to agree with the parent. Sometimes they discuss it and find a new point of view they both agree with. Or they discuss it, and then the child gets what he wanted once some kind of understanding is reached -- the parent gives some safety advice, or just realized he was mistaken. There is no reason for a disagreement to end in force or coercion. It can be resolved amicably.

So even in the interpretation of the seat belt scenario where the child initially wants something which the parent initially refuses, coercion is still far from assured. We have yet to depart from normal life. The same thing happens among friends all the time. The only reason this situation would reliably result in coercion is if one or both parties had an entrenched irrationality.

What about vandalism? Or violence against another child? Well, what about it? What if my child wants to assassinate the President? Prima facie, all these problems are extremely easy to solve. They are much easier than the seat belt problem. The reason is that the case against doing each of these things is extremely strong. The case for brushing teeth may be hard to make, but the case against violence and criminal actions is easy to make! They are very bad and easy to argue against. Easy to show downsides for. Easy to suggest better alternatives to. As in the seat belt case, the only reason these would present a chronic problem is if there is an entrenched irrationality involved. And if there is, the solution has nothing to do with the ostensible problem. The problem is about the irrationality, and the details of how it works and the how the other parts of the person's personality can help get rid of it or circumvent it. It isn't vandalism that is hard to deal with, it's irrational theories and behaviors that contain mechanisms to sabotage rational criticism and prevent changing to better ideas.

Children are not born with entrenched, irrationalities. Parents, at the time of the birth of their children, already have many entrenched, irrational theories. So the theory that the irrationality is "probably in the child" is ridiculous.
It is all distilled into what I tell squealers who try to tattle tale to me - Unless someone is hurting or being hurt, is endangering themselves or others or is destroying someone's property, I don't want to hear about it.
Squealers who tattle tale? Why does this poster think of children in terms of demeaning schoolyard terms?

A "squealer" is usually a child who has a problem with another child, and wants parental help. Or he is a child who is acting obedient to adults, and helping them enforce the rules they say are very important. Or, sometimes, he is trying to use an adult to hurt another child, which is a very unfortunate state to be in deserving of much sympathy. Don't you feel sorry for someone who doesn't know how to be happy and is so desperate that he would hurt someone else in a futile attempt to improve his life? What have his parents been doing? He needs help!

And why doesn't this adult want to hear about it? Apparently the child considers it important! There is a problem of some sort. Or if there is no problem, then the child has a misconception that there is a problem, and this misconception is itself a problem which could be solved. So instead of "not wanting to hear about it" the poster should listen carefully and try to help. Ignoring child who reach out to adults is hugely irresponsible.
Next, I disagree with your premise that survival consists of taking actions that fend off immediate death. Survival and hygene properly consist of pursuit of a optimal state of health, not just staving off death.
LOL. This is pretty funny. First he says coercion is justified if the child would die otherwise. Coercion for the sake of survival is justified. Then he goes on to explain how survival actually means maintaining an optimal health state complete with tooth brushing (it is a thread about tooth brushing and this was specified in the surrounding text), eating vegetables, daily exercise, staying on top of current medical advice, becoming rich and funding life extension research, and so on. So, for example, your child can't become an artist because that doesn't usually pay very well. I know children should only be forced when necessary, but that extra income will pay for better medical care, so it's justified. It's a matter of life or death!
Why is it, in your view, that initiation of force is wrong? In my view, it is because that force overrides the judgement of the victim - and that judgment is a human being's means of survival. For an act to be coersion, it must be overriding a capacity that the victim actually has. In the case of children, if you're forcing a 16 yr. old to brush his teeth, its coersion, but if you're forcing a 2 year old, it is not - since the two year does not have the capacity to understand tooth decay or the relationship with brushing preventing it. I'm not talking about strapping the child down
Of course not. Why would you strap a child down? They are small and easy to control without straps :)

Seriously though, parents today usually use threats instead of a whip. They threaten to withhold love, withhold approval, be upset, act grumpy and unhelpful, withhold stories and various kinds of help. Or they use emotional blackmail. These are ways of coercing children too. They are ways of making children do something while not wanting to do it.

Force prevents rational discussion. When force is used, it means that the stronger person gets his way, independent of the merit of his ideas. This is bad because it more often implements bad ideas than a rational approach. It's also bad because it hurts people.

The poster has used an ad hoc reasoning for why initiating force is wrong specifically designed to give him an excuse for forcing children. He has gone out of his way to fit in a clause about whether the victim is capable of judgment, so he can exclude children as possible victims. And anyway, choosing to move a brush back and forth, or not, is a capacity a two-year-old has. The whole point of coercing children is not that they are unable to make a choice, but that they have made one the parent does not like. Anyway, imagine you didn't have the capacity to understand something, say quantum physics. And you had to make an important decision that depended on details of quantum physics. And imagine your father is a world class expert in the field. What would you do? Of course you would want to recognize your ignorance, and to ask for advice. Children have it even easier than that. Their parents tell them about their ignorance, and volunteer the dental information, and any other relevant, helpful information. If they go wrong, it isn't due to a lack of capacity for understanding long term dental consequences. Those are not relevant -- the child can make a rational decision without understanding them. Just like you can make a rational decision about the quantum physics issue without learning about it. You can ask your father, and make a judgment about whether he is an expert, and whether what he says seems to fall within his expertise, and makes sense as far as you can tell. Similarly, a child can make a judgment about whether his parents' advice has generally seemed to help him or hurt him, and act accordingly. This is, in fact, what children frequently do. The only problem is their parents already have a history of hurting them. Then they take the refusal of the child to trust them as proof children are stupid, and so they start claiming force and violence are justified to overcome the inborn stupidity of children.

Have you ever watched a parent with a baby? You will see things like the parent hardly paying attention, and then when the baby reaches for something, for half the items in the area, the parent will move it out of reach because he doesn't want the baby to have that. Why did he put it in reach, then thwart the baby when the baby reached for it? Why doesn't he watch his baby and look for a way to help him? Why doesn't he form theories of what his baby is interested in, and think of new ways to explore it? This sort of parenting is common place. And fully explains why some parents cannot seem to reliably get their children to take their advice. As well as, you know, the fact parents commonly give bad advice. How many parents actually read scientific studies carefully before giving their children health advice? Instead they read a magazine article which summarizes a summary of a study, and they have no idea if the study is valid or not. They read some guy, who might be an expert but they don't really know, misquoted by a journalist who definitely isn't an expert and wants an exciting sounding article, and they then insist they know an important truth.
You have said age isn't a factor. This is puzzling to me because it seems fairly obvious that children do not have the same capacities as adults. How do you take this into account?
By taking into account ability, skill, and ignorance directly, when they are relevant, instead of using a one-size-fits-all judgment based solely on age.

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